Fastbreak: Florida edges Texas A&M 66-62

Florida Gators basketball (15-15, 8-9 SEC) won back-to-back games for the first time in over a month and returned to .500 with a 66-62 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies (20-9, 11-6 SEC) on Tuesday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Three days after picking up his 500th career victory, head coach Billy Donovan won his 200th Southeastern Conference game, making him just the third coach ever to reach that milestone in league play. breaks down Tuesday’s action with nine quick-hitters:

It was over when: Five-straight points by redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (two free throws and a three-pointer) put Florida ahead 58-42 with just over three minutes to play and looked to put the game firmly in the Gators’ grasp. Instead, the Aggies began fouling and chipped away at that lead with a 20-7 run, cutting their deficit to three with 6.3 seconds left. UF went 8-for-18 from the charity stripe over the final two minutes.

“I think that, in the second half in particular, has been a real microcosm of our team mentally. We’re not a mentally-strong team,” Donovan said of the free throw shooting issues. “At the end of the game, you can’t just take two point guards off the floor from a ball-handling standpoint. So at some point, those guys got to make free throws. You look at those guys’ free throw percentages, calling it like it is, those guys felt a lot of pressure. They felt a lot of pressure. That’s what’s happened to our team a lot this year is we have these mental lapses.”

Significant stretch: Leading by two, the Gators put their foot on the gas and exploded on a 14-0 run, boosting Florida ahead of Texas A&M 47-31 with eight minutes to play. Redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy scored nine points (including seven-straight and six as part of the run), adding a block and a steal during the extended scoring stretch. “I really felt the last couple days here we’ve had some really good practices, in particular on the defensive end of the floor,” Donovan said. “For us I thought, defensively, all the way around … we did a much better job. I thought we made some strides defensively.”

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Gameday: Florida Gators vs. Texas A&M Aggies – Super walk-on Jacob Kurtz set to be honored

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPNU (Rich Hollenberg, Dino Gaudio)
Streaming Video: | Mobile Video: Watch ESPN app

SiriusXM: 136/190 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Billy Kennedy
Record: 14-15 (7-9 SEC) Record: 20-8 (11-5 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida -4


The origin story for Florida super redshirt senior walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz is well-known by now.

Once a mild-mannered student at Florida who asked to watch practice inside the Gators’ facility, Kurtz was granted the opportunity to do so by Donovan and quickly became a constant presence around the team. Seeing Kurtz was extremely interested and undoubtedly persistent, Donovan let him begin contributing to the program as a glorified custodian who mopped the floors and took care of the laundry. “The Snake” then slithered his way into a role as an official team manager. Then one day, Florida was short on bodies for a practice, so Donovan asked if Kurtz wanted to run around with the team. That’s when everything changed.

“Then it was like, ‘Wow, this guy is not that bad. Would you like to play?’ ‘Oh yeah, I would love to play,’ [Kurtz replied]. Then he is in practice every day and all of a sudden he is playing and he was very, very cerebral and he was smart and pays attention,” Donovan recalled on Monday.

“I give him a lot of credit for perseverance, patience and resiliency and being really smart and always being ready. He took advantage of his opportunity and was prepared for his opportunity.”

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Fastbreak: Florida whips Tennessee 66-49, earns Gators coach Billy Donovan career win No. 500

Just days after turning in an embarrassing performance on the road, the Florida Gators picked themselves up and came through for head coach Billy Donovan with a dominant 66-49 win over the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

The victory gave Donovan an even 500 wins for his career, making him the second-youngest coach in Division I college basketball history to reach the mark.

Florida (14-15, 7-9 SEC) had one of its best showings of the season against Tennessee (14-14, 6-10 SEC), due in large part to the return of one of the Gators’ best players. breaks down Saturday’s action with nine quick-hitters:

It was over when: With less than four minutes to play, sophomore point guard Kasey Hill took off on a fastbreak, driving the lane and laying in a basket to put Florida back on top by 19 points. Hill, who finished with seven points (three layups) and seven assists to just two turnovers, played a composed game and helped lead UF to victory. “He takes responsibility. He knows he has not played great. … He does try to come back. The biggest thing with him that I’d like to see more is he’s just got to get more fire and passion and competitive spirit,” Donovan said. “He gets down on himself. I keep trying to explain to him, ‘If you’re competing, you’ve got to be able to move past that.’”

Significant stretch: Soon after redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith rose up and drained his fourth trey of the evening (on four attempts), pushing Florida’s lead to a game-high 23 points, Tennessee went off on a shot 8-2 run to cut its deficit to 15 points with just over seven minutes to play. UT was unable to progress from there.

Prominent player: Finney-Smith’s return cannot be overlooked. Though other Gators played well, he led the way with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting, draining his first four treys (4-of-5 overall) and grabbing a game-high 10 boards with one block.

“When you’re coming off a suspension and all of a sudden you got to go out there on the court, there can be this level of remorse,” Donovan said. “He’s got to be able to move past it. He served his time. He paid his penalty. It’s over with. He needs to move forward and how he moves forward is really important. I thought he was really locked in and ready to play. I thought he wanted to play well because of what had happened, him missing three games and being out of practice a little bit.”

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Fastbreak: SEC-worst Missouri embarrasses Florida 64-52 in Columbia

If the Florida Gators on the roster Tuesday had any respect for head coach Billy Donovan, they certainly did not show it. Florida (13-15, 6-9 SEC) was embarrassed once again this season as the worst team in the Southeastern Conference, losers of 13-straight games, upended the Gators 64-52.

The Missouri Tigers (8-20, 2-13 SEC) dominated the visitors over the latter 20 minutes of Tuesday’s contest, outscoring Florida 37-21 in the second half while ending the game on a 24-5 run at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.

Donovan had no choice but to sit back and watch as his team struggled on both ends of the court, combining poor shooting in every facet of the game with lacking effort on defense and terrible decision making throughout the contest.

“We really made a lot of, really a lot of poor choices, things that — to be quite honest — left me scratching my head,” Donovan said. “We had Kasey Hill reaching across the out of bounds line for a technical foul, an Eli Carter foul before the ball ever came in bounds while the game was obviously in reach, a Devin Robinson foul. Our fouling enabled them to get to the free throw line. With 13 minutes to go we’re in the bonus and we never really could take advantage of it. For us, we got to the free throw line 23 times, which is drastically more than we normally go, but certainly hard to win when you go 9-for-23. Even when we did get there, we weren’t able to capitalize. We just didn’t make enough smart basketball plays in the game.” breaks down Tuesday’s action with nine quick-hitters:

It was over when: Missouri guard Namon Wright bombed in a three-pointer with 4:16 remaining, pushing the hosts ahead by six and putting Florida in a deficit that it was unable to overcome. Wright, who averaged 5.4 points on 32 percent shooting entering Tuesday’s game, scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting, hitting 6-of-8 treys. The Tigers only increased their lead from there. “We didn’t really have anybody [who could cover him],” Donovan said. “Give him credit. He really got it going, shot the ball very well. Tonight, he was a hard match-up for us. We really didn’t have anybody who could stop him.”

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Fastbreak: Ole Miss edges Florida 72-71 in Oxford

A season on the brink may have very well reached it on Saturday evening as the Florida Gators (10-9, 3-3 SEC) gave up multiple leads and ultimately fell 72-71 to the Ole Miss Rebels (12-7, 3-3 SEC) at the Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Mississippi.

Florida has now lost three-straight games for the first time since the end of the 2011-12 regular season, and the Gators are on pass to miss both the NCAA Tournament and NIT.

“I thought this as a microcosm of how little room for error there is,” Donovan said. “That really just goes to show you how hard it will be for us unless we can really, really, really become a very, very disciplined, connected team, because we just break down.” breaks down Saturday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:

It was over when: A 6-0 stretch for the Gators put them ahead of the Rebels 69-65 with 2:52 to play. However, Ole Miss ended its 4:08 field goal drought with a mid-range jumper at 1:54 on the clock and scored five-straight to retake the lead at 70-69 with 31 seconds left. Florida junior guard Michael Frazier II stepped up to make two free throws that pushed UF ahead 71-70 with 9.8 seconds remaining, but the Gators fouled on the other end and Jarvis Summers made two of his own to give the Rebels back a 72-21 lead with 3.5 seconds left. The final play of the game belonged to UF sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who caught the ball in the backcourt and attempted to not only drive the length of the floor but finish with a reverse layup; he failed with the buzzer going off before the ball even left his hands.

“Kasey has got to recognize, three-and-a-half seconds, you got to get a shot up,” Donovan said. “You just got to stop and shoot the ball. He could have taken it to the free throw line and got that shot up. His speed got him to that point, which was good, but he obviously probably took it a bit too far.”

Significant stretches: Ole Miss took its first substantial lead of the game at 53-46 on the back of an explosive 13-0 run; the streak included three-straight triples for the Rebels and five consecutive missed shots by the Gators, all occurring in a span of less than three minutes. UF responded with an extended 11-4 stretch to tie the contest at 57 with 7:30 to play, and the team’s traded leads for the duration of the game.

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Fastbreak: Florida takes down Auburn 75-55

Updated on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

Florida Gators basketball (10-6, 3-0 SEC) continued its upward momentum by winning its third-straight in Southeastern Conference play with a 75-55 victory over the Auburn Tigers (9-7, 1-2 SEC) on Thursday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. The win was Florida’s 21th consecutive regular-season victory in SEC play and 19th-straight home win against a league opponent dating back to Jan. 9, 2013. breaks down Thursday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:

It was over when: After seeing its lead cut in half from 20 to 10 due to a 10-0 Auburn run (see below), Florida scored six points on three-straight possessions in just 1:13 to increase its advantage to 16 points and hold on for the victory.

Significant stretches: The Gators opened the second half with a 10-3 scoring stretch, extending their advantage and taking a game-high 24-point lead on the Tigers. Spanning the half, Auburn went 9:53 without netting a field goal, allowing Florida to build on its 17-point halftime lead. AU would not be denied, however, turning three-straight UF turnovers into three-pointers with a 10-0 run that cut its deficit to 10 with five minutes to play.

“I think our team is getting better. We’re not there. There’s an immaturity, a lack of understanding,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “We’re up 19 points, we have three empty possessions and they make three-straight threes. All of a sudden the lead goes from 19 to 10 and they’re looking around like, ‘What happened?!’ They have no concept how quickly it can change.”

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Fastbreak: Florida slides by South Carolina 72-68

Florida Gators basketball (8-6, 1-0 SEC) bounced back from a tough end to its non-conference slate to earn a closer-than-it-should-have-been 72-68 victory over the surging South Carolina Gamecocks (9-4, 0-1 SEC) on Wednesday evening at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

“The thing that was encouraging to me was I felt like we battled and fought as a group, collectively together as a team. For me, that was a step in the right direction for this group,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the victory. breaks down Wednesday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:

It was over when: Leading by five with less than a minute to play, redshirt senior forward Jacob Kurtz hit two clutch free throws to push Florida ahead by seven. South Carolina responded with a corner three by Mindaugas Kacinas to cut its deficit to four with 34.1 remaining, and Kacinas hit another trey – following two free throws from redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith – to make it a three-point game. Junior guard Michael Frazier II then stepped up to hit two free throws to increase his team’s lead to five only to see freshman point guard Chris Chiozza foul the Gamecocks on a made layup, cutting UF’s advantage to two with 6.4 seconds left. Redshirt junior G Eli Carter was the last Florida player at the line, solidifying his team’s lead at four points with two made free throws; Kacinas missed another triple attempt at the buzzer. The Gators went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe over the final 43 seconds.

Significant stretch: Struggling early in the second half, Florida took advantage of a seven-minute field goal drought for South Carolina with a 13-2 run started by a game-tying triple from Frazier. The Gators used a trey by Finney-Smith and three free throws to take a 54-46 lead with less than nine minutes to play. UF held on to that advantage for most of the remainder of the game.

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The Silver Lining: ‘Inconsistent’ Florida Gators struggling to find themselves as SEC play begins

The schedule has been difficult, but Florida Gators (7-6) basketball is off to its worst start since the 1996-97 season, head coach Billy Donovan’s first at the helm of the program and a campaign in which Florida started with the same record through 13 games and finished the season 13-17.

While it is quite unlikely that the Gators end 2014-15 with a sub-.500 record, Florida is not trending upward like many expected now that its roster is at full strength.

“I don’t really look at the record as much as much as how we’re playing,” Donovan said Monday.

Well, UF is not playing well either. And he is quite aware.

The Gators do not have a signature non-conference win despite a 13-game slate filled with tough opponents. Florida is 210th nationally in scoring, 177th in rebounding, 131st in assists and one of the worst in the country in both getting to the charity stripe and making free throws once there.

Simply put, there is not much going right for the Gators, which went from undeserved preseason No. 7 to a team that is no longer even garnering votes in the top 25 polls. No ranked opponent has more than three losses; UF has double that many with five of six coming in single-digit defeats.

Florida is floundering in every facet of the game except defense, and Donovan knows exactly why.

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